Whistleblowers should be financially rewarded, inquiry says

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A parliamentary inquiry recommends whistleblowers should be financially rewarded for speaking up about misconduct and

whistleblowers-should-be-financially-rewarded-inquiry-says photo 1 Photo: The new authority would have the powers of an investigative agency, undertaking criminal investigations. (AAP: Patrick Hamilton)

Whistleblowers should be financially rewarded for speaking up about misconduct, fraud or corruption across both public and private sectors, a parliamentary inquiry recommends.

Current and former staff who put their jobs on the line by speaking up should also be guarded by the establishment of a Whistleblower Protection Authority, according to a joint committee report into whistleblower protections released late on Wednesday.

The new authority would support whistleblowers, assess whistleblowing allegations and conduct investigations into reprisals against staff.

It would also have the powers of an investigative agency with powers to undertake criminal investigations and to refer cases to the Australian Federal Police.

Other recommendations include extending current whistleblower legislation to the private sector and broadening the definition of whistleblowing to current and former staff who make a disclosure and those suspected of making a disclosure.

Financial rewards for whistleblowers would be a proportion of any penalty imposed against an employer or as a result of an investigation initiated by whistleblowing, the inquiry recommends.

The level of reward would be determined by a court taking into account the degree to which the whistleblower's information led to penalties being imposed and whether there was an appropriate and accessible whistleblower procedure within a company or government agency.

The sweeping recommendations come after a range of scandals within corporate Australia where whistleblowers who disclosed misconduct, fraud or corruption were sometimes sacked, demoted or persecuted by employers.

Do you have a whistleblower story to share? Contact Peter Ryan

Whistleblower protections still 'largely theoretical'

The committee report said evidence to the inquiry shows "whistleblower protections remain largely theoretical with little practical effect in either the public or private sectors".

The report points to the "near impossibility" of current laws to protect whistleblowers from reprisals and to hold those responsible for reprisals being called to account.

whistleblowers-should-be-financially-rewarded-inquiry-says photo 2 Photo: Jeff Morris was the whistleblower who brought attention to the dubious practices of Commonwealth Bank's financial planning arm in 2014.

To track the effectiveness of proposed new legislation, the committee wants annual reports made to parliament from both public and private sectors as well as not-for-profit organisations.

Another recommendation is that the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman conduct an inquiry into protections for whistleblowers against reprisals.

Former public officials as well as former contractors to the Australian Public Service would also be able to make disclosures under a recommendation that the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 2013 be amended.

The report says that where a whistleblower discloses information to a law enforcement agency, he or she must receive regular updates on whether or not the matter is being pursued.

The inquiry considered 75 submissions including ones from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Transparency International Australia, trade unions, business groups and whistleblowers such as Jeff Morris, whose career at the Commonwealth Bank imploded after he disclosed allegedly inappropriate behaviour.

Follow Peter Ryan on Twitter: @peter_f_ryan

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